Achieving a 137 bushel per acre yield on CPS wheat in a relatively dry year is certainly noteworthy, but Fred Wood, an Alberta consulting agronomist says the real story is about the benefits of having a complete agronomy program.
Varieties are important to some extent, says Wood who owns Meridian Ag Consulting, but the real key is a whole package of inputs and management, which makes it reasonable to push for higher yields.
Wood was commenting on yields of AAC Penhold CPS wheat grown on Thompson Family Farms near Spruceview in west central Alberta. Working with Wood, the Thompsons had targeted a 130 bushel yield. The crop averaged 137. Similarly with hard red spring wheat they had targeted 90 bushels and yields averaged 94 bu./ac. Feed barley with 17 per cent hail damage had an actual yield of 139 — without the hail it would have been about 150 bu./ac. Malt barley came in at 131 bu./ac.
“Achieving these higher yields isn’t necessarily about variety, but involves a whole package of good agronomic practices,” says Wood. “It isn’t really any one thing that makes the difference.” He says obviously weather is factor, but even in a relatively dry year like 2015, these higher than average yields are achievable with proper inputs and management.
“I believe it is important for the farmer to have a good relationship with their agronomist,” says Wood. He has worked with Thompson Farms for the past 13 years. “You sit down and talk about realistic targets and develop a plan. As you look at pushing the boundaries of yield, you have to consider all aspects like the legs of a three-legged stool. You have to consider the agronomics, the asset management of the farm and of course the marketing. If you can achieve those higher yields, the return on investment doesn’t take long to add up.”
The secrets to high-yielding CPS
This high-yielding CPS wheat is a good example of the program that Wood and Thompson Farms developed.
The year started out seeding the variety into a good seed bed with “excellent moisture.” Targeting 130 bushel yield, Thompsons applied 90 pounds of nitrogen as spring banded anhydrous ammonia just ahead of seeding. Seeding into pea stubble, they also applied a fertilizer blend of 20-20-0-10 in the seed row.
The crop had good even emergence and later in the season was treated with an in-crop weed control product. One important new tool also applied was Manipulator plant growth regulator (PGR) at the five- to six-leaf stage.
“This was the first year they had used Manipulator, but I feel it is important tool farmers have to consider as they target higher yields,” says Wood. “It would be foolish to grow some of these wheats with this high fertility and not use it. With the CPS for example you’re pushing it 20 bushels past its standability limit, so you need to use something.” Last year the Thompsons had applied Etherl, a long-established PGR developed by Bayer CropScience. It was effective for reducing crop height and standability in hard red spring wheat — it was as much as four to six inches shorter — but it has to be applied with very specific timing. Wood says there is a one or two day, maybe three-day window for effective use of Ethrel. Manipulator has a much wider window of safe application, although it’s optimum performance is at Growth Stage 31.
Along with the PGR, the Thompsons also later in the season — late boot to early heading — applied the fungicide Prosaro. “A fungicide is another important tool for boosting yield,” says Wood. “Diseases such as stripe rush and leaf spotting diseases such as tan spot and septoria leaf blotch can really set the crop back. The level of disease is sometimes unpredictable, you may see it in the crop, or know it is in the area, it is sometimes hard to judge, but the fungicide can provide a big yield boost in high yielding cereal crops.”
Although the crop started with good moisture, overall it was a hot, dryer growing season, says Wood. This CPS was seeded on heavier soil with high organic matter content that helped to hold moisture for the crop. There were a couple timely half inch showers, but overall he figures the crop could have used at least another 1.5 inches of rain.
The crop held with fairly even maturity making it possible to straight combine in September. Wood says the PGR didn’t have a dramatic affect on reducing the height of the CPS wheat but it did help to strengthen the stem and improve standability. He says PGR treated CPS wheat was about one inch shorter, but the product still worked. The PGR had a more visible affect on the height of the hard red spring wheat.
“As farmers target these high yields they need to use the full agronomic package,” says Wood. “That includes soil testing so you know your starting point, know what the crop needs. It can also include tissue sampling during the season to determine any deficiencies. The farmer needs to work with the agronomist to set targets, use the tools that are available, and rely on the agronomist to take the lead in monitoring of the crop.”
Wood says the Thompsons plan to continue with a similar program to target higher yielding crops. “This isn’t the first year they’ve seen their CPS wheats and barley in that 130 bu./ac. range, but I think it is important as farmers push yields to get comfortable with producing a certain yield before they look at fine tuning that may take them to the next level.”